Thomas G. “Tommy” Thompson, 66, the treasure hunter who located the haul, is in a federal prison, unwilling to disclose the coins' location.
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Fifteen years after they were discovered, the whereabouts of millions of dollars in gold coins remain a mystery.
Thomas G. “Tommy” Thompson, 66, the treasure hunter who located the haul, is in a federal prison, unwilling to disclose the coins’ location.
Investors, who say they didn’t receive any profits from the discovery, continue to push for their share.
The issue is to come to a head in court this week, as proceedings in a civil suit filed in 2005 begin Monday; they are expected to take weeks.
The case has included the flight and eventual capture of Thompson, plus thousands of pages of legal documents, files and motions made by parties in separate lawsuits in county and federal courts in Columbus.
“I appreciate your efforts to get it to this point after all of this time,” Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Laurel Beatty Blunt said toward the end of the final pretrial hearing in the case last week.
Thompson and his company headed an expedition in the late 1980s that recovered tons of gold and other valuables worth hundreds of millions of dollars from a ship that had sunk off the Carolina coast in 1857. But investors in the efforts later filed suits in county and federal courts seeking their share of the bounty, a portion of which they assert was taken and hidden by Thompson.
The county lawsuit was filed in 2005, and a warrant for Thompson’s arrest was issued by a federal judge in 2012 after he failed to show up for a hearing. He was on the run for several years, apparently living on a cash-only basis and avoiding detection until deputy U.S. marshals found him and his girlfriend at a Florida hotel in early 2015.
Thompson subsequently pleaded guilty to failure to appear in federal court and was sentenced to two years in prison. But his term was delayed pending his cooperation in identifying the location of the gold and other valuables involved as part of a plea agreement.
Thompson has been appearing at hearings in federal court every couple of months, where he is afforded the opportunity to cooperate with authorities. He has refused.
“The court has given every opportunity to Mr. Thompson to reveal the information that would assist the civil litigants in being made whole,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Doug Squires. “The judge (summed up the situation) best by noting that Mr. Thompson has the keys to his own cell.”
Settlements have been reached with a number of parties involved in the county lawsuit, which the Dispatch Printing Company filed 13 years ago. (The Dispatch newspaper was sold to GateHouse Media in mid-2015 and is no longer the property of Dispatch Printing.)
Jury selection in the civil trial is scheduled for Monday, with opening statements — an hour for each side — set for Tuesday. About 40 witnesses could end up testifying, with provisions made if the trial stretches past Thanksgiving.
Thompson is expected to attend and will be allowed to wear street clothes, although his legs will remain shackled during the trial.
The details of Thompson’s case are the stuff of movies, and Thursday’s pretrial hearing was not without a bit of drama. Shortly before the session was scheduled to begin, court officials asked attorneys gathered in the courtroom whether they knew of Thompson’s whereabouts. He was supposed to attend the hearing. Not too long after, it was determined that he had not yet been transferred from a federal prison in Michigan to central Ohio.
Marc Kovac is a staff writer for the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch.